What Happens When You Don’t Have a Will

More than half of Americans don’t have a will, according to a study released by Caring.com.1 The study found that only 42 percent of U.S. adults currently have estate planning documents such as a will or living trust. And for those with children under the age of 18 the figure is even lower, with just 36 percent having an end-of-life plan in place.

A Will is the most basic estate planning document you should have to document what you want to happen to your assets and property after you pass. When there is no Will, each state has “intestate succession” laws that determine how property is given out. Generally, most states make the surviving partner the executor of the estate, followed by adult children and other family members, in the absence of that person. The executor of the Will is generally responsible for making sure all debts are paid off and that money is distributed.

If you are married with children, typically your estate will go to your surviving spouse and if you are single with no children, your estate will typically go to your parents if they are alive, or would be divided among siblings if your parents are no longer alive. If no relatives are found, your assets will go to the state.

If you have children, the court will decide what happens to them in the event there is no other spouse to care for them, or if the spouse is deemed unfit to care for them.

These are best case scenarios. Things get more complicated if you are divorced, in a same sex partnership or a single parent. To learn more about what your state’s intestate succession laws are, visit:  http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/intestate-succession

It’s also important for family to know what decisions you’ve made about other assets not covered in a Will. There are several assets that are not covered by a Will, including:

  • Life insurance
  • Retirement or 401k accounts
  • Certain bank accounts where you chose a beneficiary at death
  • Property held in a living trust

Leaving family without a Will and without instructions on what decisions have made for assets, can lead to a lot of work for the family left behind. Group legal plan members have access to attorneys who can help guide them through the estate planning process and answer any questions they may have to ensure their family and estate are protected.


1  Caring.com, https://www.caring.com/articles/wills-survey-2017, Aug. 2017